Free Boater Safety Course (Online)

As of July 1, 2016, VA state law requires operators of PWCs (Personal Watercraft such as Jet Skis, Sea Doos, and Wave Runners) and operators of motorboats with a 10 hp or greater motor, have a boating safety education course completion card on board when operating a PWC or motorboat.  The Boat US Foundation offers a FREE, online Boating Safety Course which is recognized by the US Coast Guard, approved by the NASBLA (National Association of State Boating Law Administrators) and MOST (NOT ALL) state boating license agencies.   To get a Certificate of Completion, you must first register, take the online course, pass the online test, and then, you will be able to print your Boating Safety Certificate of Completion.  MOST states require you have a Boating Safety Certificate in your possession when operating a vessel.  Below are links for The Boat US Foundation Online Boating Safety Courses.  Check to see if your state will accept this training:

Approved for Virginia residents –

For all other states and Wash. DC –  *Scroll down to “Online Courses,” click, “Free Boater Safety Course,” click,  your state, then click, “Education Requirements.”


  • It is very important to note, each state has their own boating laws, requirements, and regulations.  MOST (NOT ALL) states will accept the Boat US Foundation Online Boater Safety Course and Certificate of Completion.  For compliance, check your state’s laws, as well as other state’s laws in which you plan to operate a boat.
  • Generally, most states will accept out-of-state Boater Safety Certificates so long as the out-of-state certificate is NASBLA approved.  This mutual acceptence between states is called “Reciprocity.”  Check with the state you plan to visit to be sure.

An Example of Boating Law Differences Between States:

Both the states of New Jersey and Virginia require their respective residents to obtain a Boating Safety Certificate to legally operate certain vessels upon their waters.  Age limits differ between the two states.  New Jersey’s minimum age, to operate a vessel with a 10 HP motor and above, is 16.  Virginia’s minimum age requirement is 14.  New Jersey residents are also required to obtain a separate and renewable “Boat License” from their DMV if they wish to operate certain vessels upon non-tidal waters like lakes and ponds.  Virginia has no such requirement, nor are Virginia licensed boaters visiting New Jersey, required to get a New Jersey “Boat License” to operate vessels upon non-tidal New Jersey waters, only their valid VA Boating Safety Certificate is required.  A New Jersey DMV issued “Boat License” is not valid in Virginia.  New Jersey residents visiting Virginia must bring their valid New Jersey Boating Safety Certificate to legally operate vessels upon Virginia waters.  Finally, New Jersey DOES NOT approve the Boat US Foundation Online Boater Safety Course for their residents.  Virginia does.

A Note to VA Residents:

The above online Boater Safety Course is accepted in Virginia.  The certificate is good for life and does not have to be renewed.  You must have your Boating Safety Certificate in your possession while operating your vessel upon Virginia waters.  The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) offers you the ability to file for, and obtain a Virginia Lifetime Boater’s Card.  It is not required, but for a registration fee of $10,  you will receive a hard plastic wallet sized card which will serve as your Boating Safety Certificate.  The card will bear your name and issued Customer ID number as proof you have fulfilled Virginia’s Boating Safety requirement.  You can easily replace this card if it is ever lost or damaged.  Here is the DGIF link for more information:


It is my opinion, state mandated Boater Safety Courses do not provide individuals with any “hands-on” boating operation skill knowledge to adequately handle the operation of any boat out on the water.  To the best of my knowledge, there are no state mandated Boater Safety Courses which require a “hands-on,” on the water boating test to become “licensed” like Driver Education courses, which require both book and hands-on driving experience to get a driver’s license to legally operate a vehicle on the road.  It is up to you to learn how to safely operate a boat on the water.

I provided the above information in hopes of helping people save their hard earned money.  There are a number of companies who charge for taking their online boater course.  Others offer free courses but charge for their study materials or charge for the printing of some kind of certificate which may or may not be accepted by the state for which it was intended.  Know your state’s requirements before investing your money in an online course.

Have a blast boating!

Capt. Johnny Ellis, Orange Troller LLC OT Logo No white